The Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) would have their own chapter in the NFL history book.
There were 14 HBCU products named to the NFL’s 100th anniversary team, including the likes of Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley), Walter Payton (Jackson State) and Deacon Jones (South Carolina State). Those 14 plus 20 others, including Grambling’s Buck Buchanan, the first HBCU product to go first overall in a draft in 1963, have been enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But the past is what the HBCU must cling to. There hasn’t been much of a present. For the first time in the game’s modern era, there wasn’t a single HBCU player drafted by the NFL in 2021. The Willie Laniers, Ken Houstons and Mel Blounts have become few and far between for the Southern black schools.
Prairie View A&M produced Houston, a member on the NFL’s 100th anniversary team. The Panthers also sent a prolific passing combination of Jim Kearney and Otis Taylor to the AFL. Both started for the Kansas City Chiefs in their Super Bowl IV upset of the Minnesota Vikings, Kearney at safety and Taylor at wide receiver. And Jim Mitchell became a Pro Bowl tight end for the Atlanta Falcons.
But Prairie View has only had one player drafted in the last 41 years – defensive end Quinton Bell by the Raiders in the seventh round in 2019. His NFL career lasted only five games.
So Danny Garza knows what he’s up against this draft season.
Garza became a walk-in starter for Prairie View at center as a true freshman in 2017 and remained there for five years, including the Covid-abbreviated 2020 season. He leaves Prairie View as one of the most decorated players in school history, earning first- or second-team All-SWAC honors in each of his final three seasons.
But Garza has spent a football career doing things the hard way. As an Hispanic from the south side of San Antonio, Garza had only one scholarship offer – from an HBCU school.
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“I never heard of Prairie View and didn’t know what the HBCU was,” Garza said. “Going from an all-Hispanic community to an all-black community was a bit of a culture shock. It was definitely a new experience for me because now I was the minority. But my teammates, my coaches and the school staff were all super welcoming. It was a great atmosphere, a great environment and an uplifting experience. It was just a great place for me to be. ”
It was a culture shock Garza embraced. He flourished both on the field and off at Prairie View, earning a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies and working toward a master’s degree in education administration. So if a door doesn’t open for him in pro football, Garza plans to put his education to use. He’d like to return home to San Antonio and teach special ed and coach high-school football.
“On the south side there aren’t too many athletes who make it to the second level,” Garza said. “I want to give those athletes opportunities and advice – how to work out, how to take care of school, how to take care of their bodies, how to do the little things. I want to be the role model I was always looking for when I was growing up. ”
But Plan A remains football. Garza was the best blocker up front in a shotgun offense that allowed the fewest sacks in the SWAC each of the last three seasons – and Prairie View reached the SWAC title game in 2021. He was then invited to play in both the Pigskin Bowl and the inaugural Legacy Bowl, all-star games created to heighten the NFL’s awareness of HBCU players.
His choice of school and conference benefit Garza now as he looks to take his game to the next level.
“You become a well-rounded player in the SWAC because you’re exposed to so many different styles of defense,” Garza said. “It keeps you on your toes going against Grambling and its ‘chaos’ defense, then Southern with its 3-4 looks and then the 4-3’s that the other schools have to offer.”
Garza arrived at Prairie View in 2017 as a 6-2, 280-pound player. He measured 6-3, 305 pounds at the Legacy Bowl weigh-ins. His pro day di lui at Prairie View is April 2.
“That’s all I’ve ever wanted since I started playing football – an opportunity to play,” Garza said. “When I’ve gotten the opportunity. I’ve run with it… and I’m never letting that go. I want to stay on the field as long as I can. There’s nothing like it. ”